|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 09 May 2000|
Alternately fascinating and boring, intelligent and dopey, with obvious ideas followed by intriguing new ones, VAMPYRES is about as mixed a bag as a horror movie can get. Spanish director Joseph Larraz, working in England, wrote the script in a week, and it pretty much plays like that -- but Larraz is an intelligent man (something he repeatedly points out himself in the commentary track), and VAMPYRES is, at times, surprisingly intelligent. It's also extremely erotic, and awash in blood. It's hardly to everyone's taste, but for those who like the exotic, or are fond of horror movies, it's an interesting experience.
The movie opens with two gorgeous, naked young women, Fran (Marianne Morris) and Miriam (Anulka), making passionate love in a huge bed in an old house. A mysterious, shadowy figure appears and shoots them dead. But after the credits, we meet John (Brian Deacon) and Harriet (Sally Faulkner), a couple on holiday in England, driving about with their little house trailer behind them. We never learn if they're married, or exactly what they're doing, although Harriet is an artist. They pass Fran beside the road, hitchhiking, and Harriet glimpses Miriam in the trees further off.
Elsewhere, traveler Ted (Murray Brown) checks into a small hotel, where an elderly desk clerk seems to recognize him. We never learn very much about Ted's background -- and at times, it seems as though he himself may have some kind of amnesia.
Later, he picks up Fran, who reminds him of someone he knew long ago, he says. She takes him to the old house, where at some length, they make intense, R-rated love. In the morning, he finds an odd cut on his arm, and wanders about the old house for a long, long time. Two locations were used, the commentary track by Larraz and producer Brian-Smedley Aston reveals; one of them is Bray, the old manor that Hammer used as their offices and studios for many years.
Ted briefly meets John and Harriet, who've made camp right near the old house (just why they ended up there is a mystery). He tries to leave, but is drawn back again and again to the old manor and sex with Fran. She herself, though now a vampire, is somehow obsessed with him; in a voice dubbed by another actress, Miriam urges Fran to kill him, as they have other travelers, but Fran can't bring herself to do it. The entire middle half of the film consists of this back-and-forthing, interspersed with more scenes of Ted wandering about the old house.
VAMPYRES is a fascinating but frustrating movie. The unexplained elements are hypnotically fascinating -- who shot Fran and Miriam? Why did the clerk recognize Ted? Why did Ted recognize Fran? Why are the two drawn to each other? Even when Ted realizes that Fran and Miriam are both drinking his blood, why doesn't he leave? Why does Fran tell Harriet "I always knew we'd find each other"? Even if you suspect that these are questions Larraz added to his story solely in order to make it more mysterious and involving, questions he himself doesn't know the answers to, their very existence raises VAMPYRES above the level of other cheap little British horror movies.
But the haste of production also leaves holes in the story. Harriet sees Fran and Miriam stalking very impressively through a foggy forest in the morning and late afternoon. The implication is that they're going to and from their graves in a nearby cemetery, but later it's established (sort of) that their daytime resting place is in the cellar of the old house.
Perhaps it was the speed of writing the script that resulted in the movie having no really sympathetic characters. Harriet and John come close to being likable, but remain distant and uninteresting; we're frustrated with Ted's inability to leave, and he's simply unpleasant much of the time. The result is that we really don't care very much about what happens to any of them, including the two vampires, even though Fran herself does rouse some sympathy. (Miriam remains a background figure, however beautiful.)
Larraz constantly returns to images of consumption; John and Harriet eat dinner; Fran and Miriam drink blood and practically devour one another in their love scenes; one of their victims is a wine snob, and these two vampires always drink wine, in addition to other stuff.
Harry Waxman's photography, very low-key even in daylight scenes, is a major plus, as is the use of the two old manors for locations. Larraz and Smedley-Aston both praise the score by James Clark, but others might find it harsh, discordant and unpleasant.
The commentary track by Larraz and Smedley-Aston, like the movie itself, is intermittently fascinating and boring. The anecdotes about making such an unusual movie on such a short schedule are interesting, but Larraz's constantly bragging about what an intellectual he is, and how he has little interest in horror films makes him sound like a snob. He's worked almost exclusively in low-budget erotic thrillers, returning again and again to horror, despite his disdain for it. He's never risen above this level, which seems to trouble him. According to the Internet Movie Database, his last film was in 1992.
At the very end comes the most surprising touch (for movie buffs anyway) in this surprising movie. A real estate agent shows the old house to an American couple, who mutter about buying it. We don't get a good look at the old couple, but the credits reveal that they're Elliott Sullivan and Bessie Love, who probably did this as a favor to Smedley-Aston (who sounds charming on the commentary track). Sullivan was a character actor whose career began in 1937 (VAMPYRES was his last movie). With an 18-year gap between 1950 and 1968, and always in small roles, he was constantly busy, mostly in relatively major movies, such as THE GREAT GATSBY (also 1974), ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, ACTION IN THE NORTH ATLANTIC, THE SERGEANT and many others.
Bessie Love is the real surprise. A star in the silent movies of 1920s -- she's the heroine in the original THE LOST WORLD, for example -- she kept working straight on until 1931. She and her husband moved from America to London, where by the early 50s, she was again active in films, though in supporting roles. She kept on working until shortly before her death in 1986. In such a long, unusual career, perhaps it wasn't too surprising to find her doing a cameo in the interesting, uneven VAMPYRES.